Episode 09: Volunteers

While there are many types and varieties of collections and plants at the arboretum, so too are there many types and varieties of volunteers that assist at the arboretum. In this podcast, we talk with the Bickelhaupt’s daughter Francie Hill about how she worked on bringing volunteers to the arboretum. David and Margo tells us how important volunteers are to the work that each of them does at the arboretum. We even here from volunteers themselves, telling us what types of volunteer work they and others do for the arboretum and why it is that they do this work. 


Ryan Welch: 
Welcome to another in our continuing series of podcasts about the Bickelhaupt  Arboretum located in Clinton, Iowa. According to the staff of the Arboretum, the Bickelhaupt Arboretum has the greatest volunteers in the world. The Arboretum wouldn't be able to do all it does and offer the great resources to the public free of charge without our dedicated volunteers. The folks that volunteer at the arboretum come from all walks of life and have a variety of different skill sets. And as we will here, have the opportunity to do a variety of tasks at the arboretum. 

The opportunities include working in one of the many gardens and collections mowing, giving educational tours and programs, as well as assisting with publications and record keeping. Volunteers can help out where they want as it fits with their schedules most typically. Getting volunteers to the arboretum, though, wasn't always easy. But as Francie Hill, the Bickelhaupt daughter, explains, it was something she had both experience in and a passion for. When she returned to this area and helped to establish the foundation for volunteer work that is the Arboretum today. 

Francie Hill: When I came to the Arboretum, my background was after I graduated from Northwestern. I did not work for several years and the children were grown. And so I co-directed a homeless center in Albuquerque. And then I ran Meals on Wheels, and that's like mobile meals where I had 365 volunteers. 

So I was kind of into the volunteer end of things. And then I worked for the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, as the Development Director for Catholic Charities, Catholic Social Services. Again, huge amount of volunteers. So one of the things I said was to my mom and dad, when we talked about my coming, everything I said, where are your volunteers? 

And she said, Well, I don't know, how do you just get them? And I said, Oh, I'd love to try that. So we went from three volunteers to 100 volunteers within a few years.  

Ryan Welch: Oh, wow.  

Francie Hill: And then we went from not keeping track of but perhaps 300 volunteers, 300 people visiting. 

And we had the best we ever had was 36,000 volunteers. I mean, 36,000 people – visitors  

Ryan Welch: So 36,000 visitors. 

How many volunteers did you have during that time?  

Francie Hill: We had a 100, active.  

Ryan Welch: Active. Yeah.  

Francie Hill: They have to be active and with, with key people, you know, and they did a lot of things and my mother loved it. There was always activity. We had weddings, we had classes, we had a lot of things going on. 

The focus now has not been, as you know, before, pandemic and then all of a sudden pandemic hit. So I think now that probably will build up again. I remember saying to David that same day I went down and I said, so I'm not a horticulturist. 

What do you want? I hear I have to be a master gardener. And he said that, you know, I said, What do you want me to do? And he reminded me this morning when I was talking to him, he said he said, can you just bring people to see what I do? 

And he said, no, no, I understand. I'm not I'm not bragging. And I said, No, no. And I said, What do you mean? He said, You know, they would see that what I do and everything. And maybe you could have a paper that tells them what they are or if, if I'm there, I'll talk to him about it. So it was great. And so it was a serendipitous type of thing. You know, I brought the people there and David could tell him and then David trained volunteers. Key volunteers to do tours and then we bought the electric carts for people who couldn't get around. 

Ryan Welch: As Francie, he brought folks in to volunteer. The dedicated staff of the arboretum were able to train and find many activities for them to participate in. David Horst, director of horticulture for the Arboretum, explains how volunteers are so important for his work at the Arboretum and some of the tasks that they help him do around the arboretum. 

Ryan Welch: He also points out the benefits of having volunteers both throughout the year and for multiple years. As this long term experience that these volunteers have with the Arboretum benefits everybody involved. 

David Horst: Well, we consider volunteers to be very important. They've been an integral part of the arboretum since its inception in 1970. Many of these are retirees that are looking for something to do or a way of staying healthy, staying active by volunteering. 

Some enjoy the companionship of working with other volunteers and staff members.  

Ryan Welch : Okay.  

David Horst: It really works well for us as some of the volunteers like being indoors and some prefer to work outside with the plants. So we need help in both areas. 

Ryan Welch: And so there's a variety enough for the volunteers. So, you know, if you're a volunteer here, you don’t just get stuck in one thing. You could be doing a number of things depending on what you actually like to do as a volunteer. 

David Horst: That's right.  

Ryan Welch: Okay.  

David Horst: Yeah. And we feel they're a very important link connecting us to the community. 

Ryan Welch: Because if, you know, if you volunteer somewhere, you have a bit of a stake in it. And so you want to see it succeed, you want to see it thrive and all that stuff. And so the more people you can get to help out, the more ownership they feel into it just as much as everybody else and the more they want to keep it going. 

David Horst: That's exactly right. And also, we find that they bring their family and friends to visit, which brings visitors to the grounds. 

Ryan Welch: And more opportunities for more volunteers. 

David Horst: More volunteers. 

Ryan Welch: And more education and more people enjoying the area overall. 

David Horst: That's right. 

Ryan Welch: What kind of things do you have your volunteer, volunteers that work with you, what sort of the things you have them do? 

David Horst: We've had volunteers help with pretty much everything out on the grounds, but main jobs would be planting trees and shrubs, a lot of them like working with flowers. We have them help us weed got plants. That's always a major job. 

David Horst: Year round. Year round. Seemed like the weeds grow all the time. 

Ryan Welch: They do, it's funny how it works. 

David Horst: And even mowing is very important. We're very fussy with the turf here. We like to keep it mowed. And the volunteers loved the run the equipment. Rich Gosnell has done a fabulous job for the last number of years. 

We assist him during a busy time of mowing with summer staff. But Rich does a fabulous job, and he's been a volunteer now for five plus years.  

Ryan Welch: Wow. So it's nice to have that longevity with some of them. If you can if you can get and keep them interesting, they want to keep coming back. That helps quite a bit on all ends. 

David Horst: The longevity is very important. And the nice thing with Rich is he so enjoys coming here even after the growing season has ended and the mowing is done. He continues to come throughout the winter time and help with small jobs, even if it's shoveling snow. 

He loves to make the labels on our label making machine.  

Ryan Welch: Yeah. So he likes the variety of things, I mean, even as a volunteer, he doesn't just do one thing. He does a variety of things as well. 

David Horst: He does a large variety. 

Ryan Welch: Wow. So it's really nice to get those kind of folks to come in and not, for instance, just want to mow or just want to weed or just want to be one thing to give those folks like you do a little bit of everything as well. 

It is a plus 

David Horst: They're welcome to come. We welcome them if they only want to do one thing or if they only want to come once or twice a year. But we love it when they're like Rich and they're dedicated and come every week. 

Ryan Welch: Does he come every week? 

David Horst: Yes. 

Ryan Welch: Wow. He's got a schedule. 

David Horst: No, it's pretty much up to him. But he lets me know when he’s coming. 

Ryan Welch: So he doesn't just show up. 

David Horst: And the nice thing about Rich where comes all the time is he knows from time to time what's up next to do. 

Ryan Welch: Oh, okay. So he's got a schedule. He knows sort of what kind of things happened during the season where, okay, you guys are going to need work on this part of the Arboretum now to get it ready for folks coming in or yeah, we got this coming up or this is what's blooming now. 

So this is what we need to not touch as much as we need to go over here. 

David Horst: Exactly. 

Ryan Welch: Nice. That is helpful. 

David Horst: That's very helpful. 

Ryan Welch: Because a lot of people get to show that, too. And then if you're only there for a few weeks, off they go. 

David Horst: And then you start over. 

Ryan Welch: Start all over again with somebody else, okay. 

David Horst: And we've also had volunteers come as a group to different groups in the community, scouts, school groups. Prince of Peace is a major one. They come every year, sometimes twice a year, when they're doing their community service for different groups. 

The Arboretum is on the list will get anywhere from 5 to 10 students and an instructor. Typically, for most of the day, they'll bring lunch and eat here and we work all day and we get a lot accomplished that way. 

Ryan Welch: Nice.  

David Horst: So we do get individuals. Sometimes we'll get a husband and a wife or a family come or we can get a large group to come. 

Ryan Welch: As David explained the importance of the volunteers that help him do work outside. Margo Hansen, former Director of Programs for the Arboretum, talks about some of the work that goes into recruiting and maintaining the volunteers that they have there. 

She also talks about some of the work she does with the volunteers, especially in the educational programs that the Arboretum does for the public as well as the elementary children in the area. She also tells about the diversity of the volunteers that help out at the arboretum. 

Now, in terms of the arboretum here, you know, it's just you and Dave full time. But you guys have a lot of volunteers that come in. Volunteers seem to be a very big part of this whole operation. How did all that begin? 

Ryan Welch: Was that from the, from the very beginning? Yeah. It's always that we always use volunteers. Or was it something that sort of just kind of came about and evolved? 

Margo Hanson: So I think that with a lot of organizations, especially when they're new, the volunteer group evolves, like you said, in that there were a few in the beginning Mr. or Mrs. Bickelhaupt did have volunteers that came and help. 

And then throughout the years word got around the Arboretum grew. There were more programs, more workshops of the media. The, the Clinton Herald would have photographs in the spring when things were starting to grow again. And so all of that, it was just a process of it evolving. 

But then you have to you have to work with your volunteers, you have to take care of them, you have to inform them, and you have to call them and know which volunteers like to be greeters know which volunteers like to water and pull weeds. 

So you have to fit the person to the, to the job and what they like to do and what they're good at. And a lot of times people think, well, you know, the arboretum is just pulling weeds, but it's not we I have a few ladies that help me edit material that I write. 

We have people that just greet. We have people that park cars. We have volunteers that help David mow, volunteers that help him prune. So we do have a whole different list of jobs and we make it fun, you know? 

It's not a chore. It's fun. It's a great way for the community to share in the glory of the Arboretum. 

Ryan Welch: So it's not like there's just as many different tasks that you have volunteers do. Is the amount of tests you do almost on a daily basis is a lot of variety there. You don't get set into just one thing, even as a volunteer, and even if you are doing one thing one day, there's a chance you could be doing something different next if that was of interest to you. 

Margo Hanson: Definitely, yes. And because the seasons change, you know, in the spring, we have spring cleanup. And it's fun to see the blossoms come out in the summer when if it's a hot, dry summer, we need to do a little more watering. 

We don't do a lot of watering, but there are certain plants that we do need to help survive. And then, of course, in the fall, we have the, you know, the fall clean up. And so it does change with the seasons. 

It does change with the programs that we offer. We also have a wonderful group, group of volunteer ladies, for the most part, that help with our No Child Left Inside. And those volunteers actually teach the elementary students that are bussed here the classes, teach them a lesson, and then tour them around the grounds. 

So volunteering is touring also. So there are a lot of things involved. 

Ryan Welch: So what, what type of people volunteer here that at the arboretum? 

Margo Hanson: We have all kinds of volunteers. We have high school students that want to come and want to volunteer to the community so that they have that to add to their resume. Plus, they, they love to come to the arboretum or maybe they grew up in the area and they remember playing here. 

And now they want to make sure that the arboretum continues on a good path. And then also we do have ages in between, but for the most part, the college and the young adults are so busy with their jobs in life we get a few of those, but for the most part they are retired people who love to be outside, want to learn about plant planning and pruning and taking care of plants, and want that interaction with other volunteers and people in the community. And so it's just a nice blend of all types of people, male and female. 

And some people physically can't do a lot of physical work. So then we have people that drive golf carts, people that give tours, people that check, people in and greet. So they're all levels of work and volunteering that needs to be done. 

And so we just really try to match the, the job with the volunteer and make sure that it works best for them. 

Ryan Welch: So there's, there's no special task or special skill. A volunteer has to have to be able to volunteer here. There's something for just about everyone. 

Margo Hanson: Absolutely. You could just sit here and smile if you wanted to. Just say hello. Welcome to Bickelhaupt arboretum or, and we do mailings once in a while and sometimes we do callings. So if, if you're someone that can't get out and about, you could be one of my people that makes phone calls or contacts, volunteers or helps coordinate. So there are all kinds of things over the years. Help me set up for a workshop. Help me set up for a program or an event. And so a lot of things like that and we try to make it fun and it is fun. 

Ryan Welch: As David and Margo pointed out, the volunteers that assist in the Arboretum are truly exceptional people that come from a variety of backgrounds and assist with a variety of tasks at the arboretum. So who are some of these fabulous volunteers that the Arboretum has recruited, and why do they love spending time at the Arboretum? 

Ryan Welch:  So the answers to those questions, I sat down and talked with three of the volunteers Joyce Oley, Raymond Smith and Marion Johnson, who assist with educational programs at the Arboretum, as well as a variety of other tasks on the grounds. 

Ryan Welch: They explained to me the how and the why volunteering at the I've read them is so important to them. 

Joyce Oley: My name is Joyce only and I just live a block away from the arboretum, so I've been coming to the arboretum ever since its beginnings. However, I started volunteering after I retired from teaching, and I started with the No Child Left Inside program, did some clean up kinds of things in the beds over the years, but started really big time in that last year. So that's my main thing to volunteer for now. 

Raymond Smith: My name is Raymond Smith. I taught high school here at Clinton High School for quite a few years, and then I had the privilege of teaching at Ashford until it finally closed. So teaching has always been part of my life. 

I enjoy coming over here because I feel that it's an extension of my teaching career, teaching young children and adults about the things that I learned from Margo. 

Marion Johnson: I'm Marion Johnson. I retired from Mount Saint Clair College about 2002, and that's when my husband and I, both, as far as volunteering here, is concerned. I came to the arboretum. It was through the Master Gardener program. 

That we got into some activities that were going on and volunteering. I also did No Child Left Inside and also with I also helped with theHerb Garden when it was first planted. I was involved in that and also with the Butterfly Garden. So I've been different, different programs involving students. I guess, as much as I could. 

Ryan Welch: So you heard about it through the Master Gardener program. What did you hear about the about volunteer and here the arboretum? 

Raymond Smith: I think I just showed up. 

Ryan Welch: It wasn't even word of mouth. You just wandered around and that's the place to go. And you said you were neighbor. 

Joyce Oley: I was a neighbor and a friend of Francie’s.  

Ryan Welch: Okay. And so she's kind of roped in that way. 

Joyce Oley: Well, didn't take much to take much of a role.  

argo Hanson: So for the No Child Left Inside program, it does take a lot of volunteers to tour the the students around the grounds. But what has happened over the years is many of them are retired schoolteachers 

and when they know a friend is going to retire, they say, hey, come and help us at the arboretum and come volunteer at the arboretum. So I think word of mouth through friends and fellow teachers have gotten more volunteers here. 

And because they're teachers, they really want to see the learning process and continue with that on a different level. So we have gotten a lot of volunteers just by teachers asking teachers they know are going to retire to come. 

Marion Johnson: Joyce is a good recruiter. 

Ryan Welch: Joyce is a good recruiter, and it sounds like what drew all of you in at least to the aspect of the volunteering that you guys do here. The Arboretum is that educational background that wanting to to take something that was being done here already and applying your educational background is to helping it further move forward and get other people interested and get other people moving on and that sort of thing. So what drew you all to want to volunteer here? 

Raymond Smith: I would say myself, probably that, I have the time, you know, as a retiree. And it I guess, I get the feelings of, you know, I, I've been doing this all my life, working with people in different areas. 

And so it's just kind of a natural and I might segway off of that a little bit. I grew up on a farm. I knew where carrots came from. I know where milk comes from. I know strawberries come from, you know what I mean. 

And, you know, living in a in a sort of semi urban, I guess you'd call this community. Kids just don't know that. 

Margo Hanson:  Adult programs we've had all along that Francie and Mr. Mrs. Bickelhaupt have actually had winter awareness programs where they brought in speakers and volunteers would help, you know, greet and help set those up. A number of different workshops that we would do, volunteers would help get things ready, set those up, and then often offer tours. 

We would offer golf cart tours, and so I would take some volunteers around and give them my spiel so that if they had a tour, they, they could know of different things to point out on the grounds. And so over the years we've just had many different types of workshops and educational programs for all ages. 

And volunteers do help, you know, water, they do help pick up sticks, they help greet. I do have a few that help edit things that I write and help with brochures and things like that. So there are all kinds of volunteering opportunities here at the arboretum. 

A lot of times they think, Oh, it's just pulling weeds, and that's not the case at all. There are all different kinds of volunteering in all different amounts of time that you can spend. You can just help with one or two events or you can come back. 

We had one lady that's watered every week on a regular basis certain gardens. So a lot of different opportunities.  

Joyce Oley: I think my reason for being a volunteer here is it's an opportunity to be outdoors in nature as soon as it gets warm. 

I want to be outside all day long and it doesn't take all day if you're a volunteer. I mean, you can you can spend an hour doing something really important. And it seems like I get fed if I'm doing something for somebody, but I'm the one who benefits. 

And I think just being in nature is worth a lot. So even if you just want to walk through. Margo Hanson: One local school Prince of Peace has a community work day and they bring their volunteer, I'm sorry, they bring their students. 

And we have a number of volunteers here that are coordinated with the students and we have a project. So one volunteer will take two or three students and go work on something at the arboretum. And we have a whole list of things and it's generally done in the spring, in the fall and it's just really fun it’s fun for the kids. They're helping the arboretum, they're out of the classroom and they're doing something for the community. So that's and we have had other groups that have come, church groups that have come and helped with the Community Service Day in helping here on the grounds. 

So we really appreciate it and I think we all benefit in the end. 

Ryan Welch: So for these groups, it's not just an educational opportunity. In some cases, it's also community service offering. 

Margo Hanson: Exactly. 

Ryan Welch: A way to be part of a larger community. That to me, at times they didn't they didn't exactly think about or at least hadn't thought about it another time. 

Margo Hanson: Right? Correct. 

Raymond Smith: I think one of the thing is just to realize that the influence of the Arboretum goes beyond Clinton. I mean, I remember taking a group from Cedar Rapids, there was a garden club in Davenport, has garden club that comes up here often. 

And I think of Dubuque as well. 

Margo Hanson: Dubuque and Peoria, Maquoketa garden club. Yeah, comes down. 

Raymond Smith: I know there's been several garden clubs in here that have been present. 

Joyce Oley:  Sometimes the people coming through and riverboats. Oh yeah, they include the arboretum and their tour. So I mean, and when you're here working and you see somebody walking around and they come up and ask, What are you doing? 

Well then you say, Well, where are you from? And you know, they're from all over the country. 

Ryan Welch: Yeah, I know. There have been places I've gone and I'll tell people I'm from Clinton. They're like, Oh, you know, of the arboretum, they'll know about the Arboretum, only bring it up. And in some of my travels and things, especially when I go to plant type conferences like, Oh yeah, the it's a great, I really like to talk about the conifer collection and things like that. 

Marion Johnson: I want to add some things and these people have all helped in different gardens. Joyce's husband makes the Leopold bench. And he had a workshop. Where he put together. I mean I now have a Leopold bench because of that experience and then you talk about Leopold. 

Etc. etc. But he's done a lot with the helping and cleaning up and the benches because he's a good carpenter, not by my trade. He's just this spring,  

Joyce Oley: He's been fixing up a lot of the benches and then they're going to clean them up and, and so they're going to look really nice for this. 

Marion Johnson: So there is an opportunity for people who have a talent to. Yeah, now I'll mention my husband. Who we came here because he like, as I mentioned, that's how I got involved with the arboretum through 

My husband coming here. And he wanted to. Work with plants because he liked that was his thing. And he ended up making. The little what he called the little label, labels. But towards the end, he helped with cutting the lawn. I mean, he just loved to get out there. And I mean, not that this has anything to do with 

Ryan Welch: Yeah, but I mean, what we're saying is there's all your opportunities, not just in the education part of it, but for all aspects. Whatever you're interested in, there's a pretty good chance there is a volunteer opportunity here at the arboretum that you could be involved in, and that could, could help both you and the Arboretum. 

Margo Hanson: One volunteer I don't think we've had very much as helping David shovel snow. So if anybody wants to come and help David's shovel, you will give us a call. (laughter) 

Ryan Welch: That one might be a little bit more difficult. 

Margo Hanson: Okay, give us a call. 

Ryan Welch: As we can see, the Arboretum does have some of the greatest volunteers in the world with no shortage of experiences a person could have while volunteering at the arboretum, and an eager staff that is willing to train and work with flexible schedules. 

Both the Arboretum and the volunteers get the best of both worlds in this type of partnership. My many thanks to Francie Hill, David cast, Margot Hanson, Joyce Ali, Raymond Smith and Marion Johnson for sharing their time and insights with me for this podcast, as well as to Otis Welch for the musical selection.